Hardcore: Public Transport in Istanbul

Travelling by public transport in Istanbul has many advantages. It is pretty cheap. First off, you need to avoid taxi drivers that may charge you too much money because you are a foreigner; and it’s always best if you take the metro, metrobus or...

Travelling by public transport in Istanbul has many advantages. It is pretty cheap, you avoid taxi drivers that may charge you too much money as you are a foreigner and if you take the metro, metrobus or the ferry you will not get stuck in (too much) traffic. The metro-system also keeps getting bigger and bigger. If you have the Istanbul-Kart it is only 2 Lira to go from A to B. There is also the “Trafi” app which gives you the best advice on how to get where. Sounds perfect, right? But such rides by public transport are something quite different. A very special experience is a ride on the Metrobus.

The Metrobus is a bus, which has its own street line. It goes from the European side via Bosphorus Bridge to the Asian side (and all the way back). It is the fastest connection from the European to the Asian side, but it is sometimes a challenge for tourists.

The last stop of the metrobus has a swanky name: Söğütlüçeşme. If you want to go there: you must first remember this name, write it down, and pronounce it correctly. This is a real challenge!

Here is some help for everybody without Turkish language background. The “ğ” is silent, the “ç” is like a “cz” as in “Czech Republic” and the “ş” is pretty easy as it is said like a “sh”. Then, of course, there are all the “ö” s and “ü” s. “Ö” as in the “e” in “her” and “ü” as in the “u” in “lure”. Easy? So now try it all together: Söğütlüçeşme. Right. And then try to say that fairly fluently while being on a crowed, noisy Metrobus stop in the middle of Istanbul to ask for the way.

If you have done this first step, you are (hopefully) at the right place now. But now you have to get into the stuffed Metrobus. If you are worried that you will not get in contact with locals on your visit to Turkey, you will see that this worry is totally unnecessary if you take the Metrobus. Sometimes you have to hold on to another passenger who is just two centimetres away from you because the bus is so crowded you cannot find anything else to hold on to.  There is a wonderful Youtube video that reflects this situation accurately.

Of course, you need to know this video is mocking a promo-video from IETT, the public transport provider in Istanbul. In this video, a well-off man is leaving his house to go to work using the Metrobus. In the Metrobus, he reads his newspaper comfortably while the Metrobus takes him to his job very gently. A voice comments this situation and tells you all the opportunities of the public transport in this modern city. Here is the video.



But here is Hayrettin’s (Turkish Comedian) more realistic version.



When you finally arrive in Söğütlüçeşme, basically bathed in sweat, then you have gone through your baptism of fire and are ready for all the other kinds of public transport in Turkey. For instance the Dolmuş.

The legendary Dolmuş is a big taxi. Again, filled with no shortage of physical contact with other people. Dolmuş means “filled up” and this is the principle of this minibus. The driver has a certain way to go and he waits until the car is full. Then the trip starts. You cannot use your Istanbul-Kart here. You have to pay cash between 2-7 Lira. The money is passed through the car to the driver and the change also passes from one hand to another. You also have to know some Turkish here: Bir tane, iki tane – one or two persons to Taksim, Üsküdar, and Yeşilköy. Then the cosy, slightly dangerous, and very quick ride through the city begins. You cannot buckle up in the Dolmuş, and it is very possible to end up on the lap of your seat-mate in the steep curves.

Anyway, after dealing with the payment rituals, sort of being seated, and overcoming the fast drive, the stress starts again when you try to get out of the Dolmuş.  It is very helpful when you already know the route. Or if someone can help you to let the driver know where you have to get out. Because if you do not want to get out at the last stop, you have to tell the driver.

The great thing: When there is a lot of traffic – and there is almost always lots of traffic – it is possible to get out anywhere. But that’s of course also a little scary for newcomers and foreigners: how do you know where to get out of the Dolmuş when there are no signs? Or no obvious system? And how do you tell the driver? Now, here again you get your chance to communicate with locals.

There is a computer game which reflects the atmosphere of rides in a Dolmuş perfectly. In this game you are the Dolmuş driver and you have to collect the passengers and let them out and you have to be as fast as possible. You will get dizzy just by looking at it. A real Dolmuş ride is basically the same.



When you survive a Dolmuş ride, physically and mentally then you deserve a very special award from the public transport in Istanbul.

A ride by ferry on the Bosphorus is also a unique tourist experience. At the same time, it is actually a way for people to get to work every day.  That’s why this is as cheap as any other route. But on the ferry, you will think this ride is only created for relaxing and enjoyment. There is the smell of the ships and the sea. All of a sudden it becomes silent around you and peaceful. You enjoy your seat in the sun, with seagulls flying around the boat, water beside you and sometimes even dolphins come join. And you also can look at Istanbul from afar.    You see the other side of the Bosphorus Bridge, the old town, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. And the ride becomes even cosier when you order tea, orange juice, and a sandwich.



This ride alone compensates for all the jostle, sweating in the Metrobus, in the Dolmuş, and the bustle in all the other transports. But all these different transportations are special, and you will certainly have stories to tell afterwards.

Photo Credits: Ege Soyuer

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